The Download: LightSquared, GPS industry dispute spills into 2012


WASHINGTON,DC-MARCH 15: LightSquared booth at Satellite 2011 Convention at Washington Convention Center in Washington,DC on March 15, 2011 ( Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/For Washington Post) (Jeffrey MacMillan/FOR WASHINGTON POST)
December 25, 2011

The struggle over the airwaves that has bogged down Reston-based LightSquared’s plans to deploy a wireless broadband network looks like it might be nearing a showdown.

The company made its boldest attempt yet to squash the opposition last week, asking the Federal Communications Commission to issue a declaratory ruling asserting LightSquared’s right to use the spectrum.

At issue is the network’s potential interference with the receivers on global positioning systems that provide navigation support to consumers, companies and the federal government. Opponents of the project say that interference could cripple industries that rely on GPS and would cost, at minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars to fix.

Those claims gained further support earlier this month when officials from several government agencies reported that tests showed the LightSquared network would interfere with “the majority” of GPS receivers.

“LightSquared, at this point, and basically reacting to continued evidence of interference, continues to modify its plans,” said Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel at positioning services firm Trimble. “They are reaching the point where no other modifications can made other than not operating.”

That is certainly not the company’s view.

LightSquared, which is backed by Harbinger Capital Partners, said in its FCC petition that its satellite-based network is consistent with its license and should not be penalized because the GPS industry “simply has failed to prepare itself.”

“In contrast [to LightSquared’s network], commercial GPS receivers are not licensed, do not operate under any service rules, and thus are not entitled to any interference protection whatsoever,” the filing stated.

LivingSocial university

Tech companies often complain about the difficulty they face filling jobs that require advanced Web development and computer programming skills, particularly in Washington where they must compete with the federal government and contractors for top talent.

District-based LivingSocial has taken a new approach: School them yourself.

The daily deal purveyor has begun fielding applicants for the 24 slots in its inaugural class at the Hungry Academy. The five-month, paid apprenticeship — named for the company’s original moniker, Hungry Machine — will offer classroom instruction and hands-on experience at LivingSocial’s New York Avenue headquarters.

The academy is a joint effort with JumpstartLab, a Washington outfit that teaches technical skills. A spokesman said participants who successfully complete the program may be offered jobs with LivingSocial’s engineering team. (LivingSocial’s chief executive Tim O’Shaughnessy is the son-in-law of Washington Post Co. chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham).

Alarm app

More than 75 percent of Alarm.com users monitor their home security system from smartphones rather than the company’s Web site, according to an analysis the firm plans to release next month.

The result offers a case study in the rise of the smartphone.

In 2009, Alarm.com debuted mobile apps that can arm or disarm a security system, monitor video cameras, send security alerts and control a home’s lights, locks and thermostat.

At first, people still flocked to the Web site. But by September 2010, more people were logging into the company’s iPhone app than its homepage for the first time. Applications are also available on BlackBerry and Android devices.

Jay Kenny, Alarm.com’s vice president of marketing, attributes the platform’s increasing popularity today to basic ease of use. When people used to question whether they remembered to set the alarm, there was no clear answer.

“People are realizing now with the mobile phone that you can take action on those impulses,” Kenny said. “The mobile phone has extended the value of that product to give you information when you’re not in the home.”

CIT awards

A handful of Northern Virginia firms shared in a round of funding from the commonwealth’s Center for Innovative Technology, which doled out $3.6 million last week to advance research and development at 22 companies, universities and research institutes.

The local recipients include:

Reston-based AFrame Digital, which created a wristwatch that monitors movement and health data of the elderly.

Potomac Falls-based Biospherex, which develops a diagnostic tool for inflammatory bowel disease.

Springfield-based Jericho Sciences, which collaborates with other organizations to develop antiviral therapeutics.

Fairfax-based LC Technologies, which built a device that tracks a user’s eye motion to help them communicate.

Reston-based Parabon NanoLabs , which uses nanotechnology and its proprietary software to engineer macromolecules for novel therapeutics.

Vienna-based Xyken, which developed an endoscopy video analysis software platform.

Earlier this year the Virginia legislature funneled $6 million into the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund. The remainder of that money will be distributed next spring, a CIT spokeswoman said.

But demand for research funding greatly outstrips supply. CIT received more than 90 proposals from organizations around the state that sought nearly $21 million in funding.

overlys@washpost.com

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